Coulson Aviation in the U.S. state of Oregon confirmed one of its Lockheed large air tankers left Richmond air force airbase with retardant for a firebombing mission and radar contact was lost over rugged bushland near the national capital Canberra.
It said the accident was “extensive” but had few other details.
Coulson has grounded its large air tanker fleet following the accident, pending a review to rule out any systemic issue, such as a fuel problem.
“The only thing I have from the field reports are that the plane came down, it’s crashed and there was a large fireball associated with that crash,” said Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.
People are seen embracing at Numeralla Rural Fire Brigade near the scene of a water tanker plane crash on January 23, 2020 in Cooma, Australia. The repurposed C-130 Hercules, built in America by Lockheed Martin, took off from Richmond RAAF base at 1pm, and disappeared from the flight radar just after 2pm. Coulson Aviation, the Canadian operator of the C-130 aircraft, has now grounded their fleet as a mark of respect for the victims and to re-assess safety conditions. (Jenny Evans/Getty Images)
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she had conveyed Australia’s condolences to U.S. Ambassador Arthur Culvahouse Jr.
“Our hearts go out to their loved ones. They were helping Australia, far from their own homes, an embodiment of the deep friendship between our two countries,” she said in a statement.
“Thank you to these three, and to all the brave firefighters from Australia and around the world. Your service and contribution are extraordinary. We are ever grateful,” she added.